Why native publishers, not foreign donors, are the cure for illiteracy

Why native publishers, not foreign donors, are the cure for illiteracy

By Anonymous (not verified), February 8, 2012
Local publishing can increase readership and boost economies. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/prathambooks/3291764099/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Photo: Pratham Books (Flickr)</a>
Local publishing can increase readership and boost economies. Photo: Pratham Books (Flickr)

Between the pages of a book, people in developing countries can find knowledge and business opportunity.

Our recent post on homemade books highlighted the issue of literacy and the shortage of reading material for children in developing countries. However, this issue extends beyond schools to affect entire communities. Many have weighed in on the apparent lack of a reading culture in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, but few have discussed two large issues: donors and publishers.

While donors mean well, literary contributions are often in a different language or deemed culturally irrelevant. The donor feels warm and fuzzy, but the recipient may now be stuck with a big, unusable pile of books.

There are two solutions: one is external to the market, the other internal.

The first involves a little extra research and outreach on the part of the donor. What books would they like to read? What books are culturally relevant while still introducing new ideas and cross-cultural learning? What textbooks would best fit the local curriculum? Whether lining school shelves or introducing a great work of fiction, these questions emphasize the importance of reader input and community context. Make sure the charitable organization you use is able to answer these questions.

The second solution segues into the second issue: Publishers. Specifically, the developing world's lack thereof.

We know there is a severe deficiency of books in local dialects throughout the developing world. But this is where need turns to opportunity. The market is ripe for local (or even multinational) book publishers. By translating and promoting local authors, countries can begin boosting literacy and readership. A nice byproduct is a bump to the job and manufacturing market, trickling down to the local economy. Though the latter may be small, the long-term effect is increased literacy and education.

There are already a few organizations that have heeded this call. The Room to Read organization has begun publishing in 27 local dialects throughout Africa and Asia. The United Kingdom’s Big Give project is currently seeking donations to run a similar program. While these organizations are a great start, there’s still a lot of opportunity.

Thus, with a little extra research we can avoid dumping unwanted items on poorer communities. By supporting publishing efforts, we help to address the root of the problem. Not only does this boost the local economy but it helps in the fight against illiteracy. It’s a win-win.

The next great author could be waiting.

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